Corolla vs. Corolla: Crash test shows how far, how fast safety has advanced

We live in a golden age of automotive safety, with automakers racing to innovate safety systems and structural design, the feds and the insurance industry crash-testing cars left and right, and even road design being refined with safety in mind.

This video out of Australia shows just how far we've come in less than a generation. The video comes to us from Australia and New Zealand's joint safety organization, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), which is like our National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rolled into one. That is, they crash cars to see what happens.

ANCAP sacrificed two Toyota Corollas to the safety gods last week to make a point and to mark the United Nations' Global Road Safety Week. An Aussie-built 1998 model (our cars had airbags in 1998, but not theirs), and a 2015 model were pitted against each other in a 40-mile-per-hour partial overlap collision.

As you'll see in the video, it's no contest. ANCAP gave the '98 Corolla a rating of zero stars. Yes, zilch. Sensors indicated the crash-test dummies received severe head, leg and chest injuries. And the car's precise score from the test rubric was a measly 0.40 out of 16 possible points.

The 2015 Corolla, meanwhile, got a 5-star rating and almost 13 out of 16 points, and thanks to the airbags and a much more sorted-out structure, everyone would have walked away, or at least hobbled away with minor injuries.

NHTSA famously did a similar comparo a few years ago, crashing a 2009 Malibu with a 1959 Bel Air, which of course was obliterated. But you'd expect a 50-year technology spread to show a remarkable difference. The age difference in these Corollas was a mere 17 years.

ANCAP used the video to point out a grim irony. Our riskiest cars are often in the hands of our most-at-risk drivers. A 19-year-old car driven by a 16-year-old kid is not unusual. Ditto, an 80-year-old. Says ANCAP CEO James Goodwin: "It is unfortunate we tend to see our most at-risk drivers – the young and inexperienced, as well as the elderly and more frail – in the most at-risk vehicles, and we hope this test promotes a conversation to encourage all motorists to consider the safety of their car."

It's also ironic that our roads are filled with stronger, safer cars at a time when death and injury rates are on the rise as we drive farther, faster and while increasingly distracted. Then again, maybe that's not ironic but fortuitous. Imagine how much worse the death rate could be right now if we were all texting our way down the road while still driving 1990s cars.

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